Suburban Mushing

Dawn at Six Mile Run

I long for the day I can run the dogs from my doorstep, directly into the woods, and not see a single soul the entire time. Although I don't mind running into people who are genuinely curious about what I'm doing, there are plenty of people I don't want to deal with. 

Since I work in Manhattan, it's very unlikely I'll obtain my woodsy dream life any time soon. I have to settle for the suburbs, where I'm within a commutable distance to trails and New York. I'm especially tied to my current spot because I'm lucky enough to have a tiny bit of woods and enough parks to get by (plus I live in a mother-daughter house with my family, and I kind of like them). It's also a somewhat quiet spot, if I schedule my runs for specific times. If I want to avoid kids at the bus stop or neighbors walking their dogs, I have to run either before dawn or right before 9 AM, when people have already left for work. The latter only works on days I'm working from home, though.

Weekends are rough. I try to balance some semblance of a social life with waking up before dawn. My favorite spot to run is about 30 minutes away at Six Mile Run, but it's a popular area for people walking their dogs (often without a leash) and mountain bikers. I managed to get out there on Saturday, and it was beautiful and quiet (aside from the occasional shotgun fire in the distance - I always have my bright orange bandanas on hand). 

Although I was really eager to get out again on Sunday morning, I decided to get a little more sleep and take the dogs for a local run instead. Denali has a sore spot on the side of one toe and Dexter has some irritation between his back toes (from kicking after marking - not mushing related), so I didn't want to over do it. The woods loop near my house is finally free of flooding, so I knew I could add that into our routine again.

The tricky thing was taking the dogs out at around 9 AM on a weekend - prime time to run into all sorts of human activity. We managed to avoid three separate dog-walkers, and the team is learning to ignore the yappy Labrador in the yard around the corner. I was surprised to see a pit bull in the lost dog pen outside the police station. The dogs were surprised, too, and almost took a detour to greet her. Luckily, Denali seems to be maturing enough to lead Knox away from distractions. Knox is, uh, getting there.

Once we got to the park, I could hear kids shouting on the jungle gym. I never really know what to expect from kids, but I'm really happy with the way these ones behaved. As I turned onto the baseball field to head back home, I saw someone walking a dog in the distance and knew I had to take a break to avoid running them over. The naturally curious gang of little girls came over and politely asked about the dogs. Since we needed to stop anyway, I decided the kids would be a good distraction while the dog walker went on her way. The girls worked up the courage to pet the whole team. Dexter was the least intimidating, especially while performing tricks for treats I had on hand. Kids are often intimidated by the huskies, since they look like wolves, but Denali and Knox were super sweet and laid back as they were poked and pet.

In lieu of having quiet, solitary runs, I can use this time to teach my neighbors about huskies and mushing. I'm glad my dogs (for the most part) make great ambassadors for sled dogs everywhere, especially when organizations like PETA try to frame mushing as abuse. I think my happy, healthy dogs prove otherwise!

And We're Off

After what felt like an eternity, New Jersey finally sank into temperatures below 50 degrees. We usually get a few runs in by September, so October is a pretty late start for us. It's torture seeing photos posted by our friends from up north - where fall is in full swing. Some are even on sleds already! (I'm not ready for winter just yet - I'll take 40 degree mornings and hoodie weather for now.)

We had our first run yesterday and second this morning. Both were short runs (1.3 and 1.6 miles) around the usual neighborhood "trail", through the rain. One of the things keeping me in my current spot is the ease of mushing right from my driveway. I live on a dead end street, on the edge of a wooded area. The woods themselves aren't totally ideal for running the team - there's a bunch of winding streams that can get pretty deep, which limits how far we can go. But the back roads of my neighborhood lead to three parks - one I use for walking the dogs, the others for walks and mushing. 

Our usual neighborhood "trail" consists of running down the street parallel to mine, into a short woods loop. Then, we backtrack past my street, through the back of some parking lots (a funeral home, police station, library, rescue squad). We cut through a small monument park (right beneath a giant army helicopter), over a cute little bridge, and behind the town senior center. From there we round into a second park and cut through fields.

Previously, we were able to do another woods loop in this area, but it's been fenced off. I'm still trying to figure out a way back there, since it's a beautiful spot. After that, we retrace our steps back home. If I want to add a little more distance, we'll pass my street and do the woods loop again. I'm hoping that with less rain and a new rig, I might have the confidence to venture deeper - through some streams - for longer runs. We'll see!

We attempted to run into the woods today, but after a week of rain, it was far too flooded. The rest of the run was business as usual, although we did encounter a loose dog in the fields. Maybe my dogs are maturing, or maybe they're just out of shape, but I was able to keep them from charging after the dog without much trouble. Denali did a great job of steering the team away. I hollered at the loose Boxer to "GO HOME" and she listened, too, so maybe it was just my lucky day.

Pimp my Ride

Yesterday, this happened:

That envelope contains (half) a payment for a brand new, custom made Arctis dog cart. AHHH! I've wanted one of these rigs since I first started mushing, but a brand new one (plus shipping it across the country) isn't cheap. It was hard to justify the expense, when I accumulated two (mostly) functional rigs over the past few years.

After acquiring my fourth dog, I could safely say I'm in this mushing thing for several years to come. As I mentioned, I have two rigs already, which work. But, there are a few reasons why upgrading makes sense:

Consolidating Equipment - The 90 pound dog cart I currently have does not fold up. I cannot mount it on my bike rack. In order to transport it anywhere, I needed to buy an 8' long trailer and ramp.  This currently sits in my garage 99% of the time, taking up space I'd rather use for my truck. The Arctis folds up and easily loads on my truck's hitch, so I won't need the 90 pound cart or trailer.

Safety First - My existing rigs are old. The 40 pound cart is older than I am. It's a typical Chambers Rig, with a strange bar for steering. It works well enough, but it will never compete with bike-style steering. The 90 pound cart has better steering, but I could use something with better brakes. The Arctis has better steering and even better brakes: hydraulic disc brakes and a 4-prong "digger" earth brake when I need to get off the cart. 

Mush with Friends - My cart will come with a detachable "jump seat". While this probably won't get much use with a three or four dog team (except for short runs around the neighborhood), I plan to hang onto this cart for a long time. One day, when I have more space, I hope to run with five or six dogs. Then a passenger will be able to go a lot further with me - and I'll have a comfortable place for them to sit.

Construction on my new cart doesn't begin until November, so the bulk of this season will still depend on my current carts. I may even keep my lightweight rig for races -- I haven't decided yet. Still, I look forward to optimizing my dog gear collection and putting many, many miles on three shiny, new tires.

On the Edge of Mushing Season

Last week, I started the annual prep for fall training. I cleaned the cobwebs off the dog carts, fixed a broken wheel, and repainted all the scuffs from last season. I've added a pair of "headlights" as well as a small cargo bag near the handles (shown on the big cart above). All are easily detachable, so I can transfer them to whichever cart I'm using.

This will be a transitional season for my team. For the first time, I hope to run with four dogs. Willow will be old enough to start some light training by the new year, and I'm counting on Dexter to put one more season in. I'm not sure if we'll hit our usual 150 mile mark this year. I plan to take things slow. I don't want to push Dexter too hard, nor do I want to overexert Willy before she's done growing. It might mean a lot of bikejoring with Denali and Knox, but we'll see what happens.

For now, it's still almost 80 degrees out, so we'll live vicariously through our friends up north who have already started their season.

Willow's First Week

Willow has been with us almost a week and a half now, and she's fitting in very well. Dexter took to her instantly, and has been the most tolerant of her puppy antics. Knox loves to chase her and pin her to the ground, but so far he's managed to be relatively gentle on her.

Denali was the hardest to crack, despite being related by blood. She still grumbles if Willy gets in her face, but she's been playing with her a bit, here and there:

So far, Willow has been a breeze. She rarely has accidents inside, and when she does, they're usually my fault for not hurrying up and getting her outside. She's super friendly and sweet to everyone she meets. I was worried my house would be in chaos, but she acclimated herself to our routine instantly. When the big dogs nap, she naps. When they play, she plays. 

I couldn't have asked for a more perfect pup!

Coming Soon to BE&S!

The big news has finally been revealed! This weekend, I'm bringing home the fourth member of my ragtag team of ruffians. Presenting the new little lady:

(All photos belong to Jaye of Sibersong!)

Her name will most likely be Willow; Willy for short. She's actually Denali's niece, also bred by Jaye Foucher of Sibersong Sleddogs.  You can check out her ancestry here. She's sure to be a great addition, both in harness and out. 

My non-musher friends may want to know, "Why another dog? Are you crazy?"

Well, yes, of course. Any suburban musher is definitely crazy. But the real reason I'm adding to my team is so I can retire Dexter. I'm hoping he has one more season in him, but beyond that, I don't expect him to keep up on longer runs. Denali and Knox have no problem running eight to ten miles at a time, while Dexter loses enthusiasm after two or three. I don't want to force Dex to run beyond his limits, nor do I want to limit the youngins. 

It will be hard to leave Dex behind because he still acts like a nutjob when he's on the drop line and for the first few minutes of any run. But I know he'll ultimately be happier going for leisurely hikes and imprinting his dog-stink into my recliner.

Thankful

Two weeks ago I visited the very green and blue Pacific Northwest. Next week, I head out to the Southwest for a completely different landscape of desert and red rock. 

I'm so thankful that I have a job that allows me to go on these adventures, and also pays me well enough so that I can afford them. And let's not forget my Mom, who's always willing to watch the dogs and drive me to various airports at all hours.

After I return, I'll be sticking around the Northeast for awhile. I'll close out the summer with lots of dog-friendly camping, so don't worry -- this blog will have dogs in it again, I swear!

Snow in the Summer

I found some snow while hiking at Mt. Rainier National Forest. Only 181 more days ‘til winter.

I found some snow while hiking at Mt. Rainier National Forest. Only 181 more days ‘til winter.

Athletic and Working Dogs - SportsVet.com

A great big thanks to Rob Gillette for supporting my little sled team through B.A.R.K! Be sure to visit his website and ‘like’ his Facebook page, especially those of you in the NJ-area with athletic working dogs.

B.A.R.K stands for “Buy A Round of Kibble”, for more info: www.sleddogcentral.com/bark.htm